Defying assertions that earthquakes can't be predicted, an Italian court convicted seven scientists and other quake experts of manslaughter Monday for failing to adequately warn residents before a temblor hit central Italy in April 2009 and killed more than 300 people.
The court in L'Aquila also sentenced the defendants to six years each in prison. All are members of the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks, which met shortly before the quake struck but did not issue a safety warning, even after a period of heightened seismic activity in the area.
Scientists had decried the trial as ridiculous, contending that science has no reliable way of predicting earthquakes. So news of the verdict shook the tight-knit community of earthquake experts worldwide.
''It's a sad day for science," said seismologist Susan Hough of the U.S. Geological Survey in Pasadena, Calif. ''It's unsettling." That fellow seismic experts in Italy were singled out in the case ''hits you in the gut," Hough added.
In Italy, convictions aren't definitive until after at least one level of appeals, so it is unlikely any of the defendants would face jail immediately.
Other Italian public officials and experts have been put on trial for earthquake-triggered damage, such as a case in southern Italy involving the collapse of a school in a 2002 quake in which 27 children and a teacher were killed. But that case centered on allegations of shoddy construction of buildings in quake-prone areas.
State TV noted that this was the first time prosecutors had brought a case based on the failure to warn people about an earthquake.